About five years ago now I presented a paper called ‘Fear of Cycling’ to a workshop at Lancaster University. There are so many different influences and serendipitous convergences in the processes of thinking and writing that it’s impossible to recall the origins of a paper exactly, but I do recall a few of the factors behind its emergence. First, it was pretty obvious to me that many people seem scared of the prospect of cycling. Second, a common response among cycling’s promoters to this fear – which is to try to convince people that, in actual fact, cycling is quite safe – struck me as slightly unsatisfactory, if obviously well-meaning. Third, I wanted to start fleshing out a straightforward idea, which is that one reason why people are scared of cycling is because we’re constantly being told – in various ways – just how dangerous it is. Fourth, it also seemed likely that a fear of cycling might involve more than a fear of danger as it’s conventionally understood, potentially extending to much more existential fears about being and becoming – via cycling – particular kinds of person. Fifth and finally (for now; as we know, thinking is never final …), then, I was interested in foraging further into media representations of cycling and ‘the cyclist’, because it seemed plausible that people might also be scared of cycling if ‘to become a cyclist’ (whatever that means) is to become someone who you currently are not, and thus – just possibly – a stranger to yourself.
My first stab at the paper drew some appreciative murmurs, which gave me the confidence to present the ideas again, but to a more cycling-literate audience, at the 2nd Cycling and Society Research Group Symposium, organised by Ben Fincham at Cardiff University in 2005. At the time I was editing (with Paul Rosen and Peter Cox) Cycling and Society, a tremendous collection of papers which grew out of the first Cycling and Society Symposium which I’d organised at Lancaster in 2004. My intended contribution to that collection was a paper on cycling and social movements, detailing the significance of the object of the bicycle and the practice of cycling over time to – variously – feminism, socialism, anarchism and environmentalism. But I wanted the arguments I was developing in ‘Fear of Cyclng’ to reach people interested in cycling, and who were committed to promoting it. So rather than it becoming lost in an academic journal, I decided it should become my contribution to Cycling and Society, which was published in 2007.
Very few people read academic journals. A few more might read academic books, but not many more – the publisher of Cycling and Society, Ashgate, printed 500 copies. So you will realise how absolutely delighted I was when, last week, Mikael Colville-Andersen from the wonderful Copenhagenize.com got in touch, to say he’d read and liked ‘Fear of Cycling’ and would love to run it in revised form and in five separate instalments on his blog. Copenhagenize.com has a considerably larger readership than the vast majority of my writing has enjoyed thus far. And today, I see the first instalment up there, and already attracting comment.
I’ve enjoyed re-visiting the ideas in ‘Fear of Cycling’. I’ve re-written the introduction slightly, to make it more blog-friendly, and Mikael is very kindly and expertly editing the rest of the article. My ideas have probably changed a little since I first wrote it (I’d be disappointed if they hadn’t), but the main thing is to see them out there, reaching a wider audience, being read, and – wow, yes! – provoking comment and discussion. The work I put into developing those ideas and setting them down on paper feels suddenly more worthwhile. So I’m immensely grateful to Mikael for offering me this guest-spot on his blog.
And, as I’m gradually trying to build my own little blog over here, destination unknown, I thought it’d be nice to re-visit the origins and development of ‘Fear of Cycling’, in order to highlight some of the processes involved – although the outcome of thinking might sometimes seem ordered and polished, the processes underpinning it are usually much more chaotic, accidental and collective. Whether or not they know it, many other people are always involved in my thinking, and I’m now following comments being posted on Copenhagenize.com, and they’ll be digested and no doubt gradually incorporated into my future thinking …
When we write it’s also impossible to know precisely, if at all, what the consequences of our writing might be (and those consequences are never of course under the control of the author). I guess that we all write in order to produce some kind of consequence, even if the consequence is to better understand, reflect on and develop our own thoughts; completely inconsequential writing would be, well, a waste of time!
So again, I’m happy that a piece of writing which a few days ago was somewhere in the shadows of university library bookshelves is suddenly radiating out from Copenhagen, and hopefully provoking, perhaps inspiring, a few more people to think about cycling …